1 March, 2015
The Beginning of a Very Long Fight
In the years after the American Civil War, the rapid process of industrialization saw an extreme need for a labor force that led to a development of the largest social group at the time - the working class. The workforce was comprised of people of different races, genders, and ages but only white male skilled workers could rely on a salary that would support their families. Those people that were underpaid or struggled to find jobs reevaluated their artisan republican beliefs as they found it impossible to reach their dreams to become their own masters one day. Only skilled and mostly white male workers enjoyed the ideal promoted by Artisan Republicanism because they had a better chance of getting a well-paid job or operate a successful business of their own. People of all ethnicities and ages grew old of the lack of the federal government involvement and decided to take action into their own hands by forming trade unions beginning in 1827. By the decade after the Civil War, the problems faced by workers were growing still, and more national responses were developing. The Great Upheaval of 1877, a series of strikes and boycotts by railroad workers throughout the nation, sparked the coming of the “labor question” which, at its core challenged society to rethink the meaning of the rights held by workers. Although the late nineteenth century was only a start of a long and oftentimes lethal fight, workers demands for changes such as a shorter-hour work day, an equal pay, and a right to equality of employment have become fundamentals of a modern understanding of a democratic society. Nowadays, employees are promised a minimum wage, welfare support and unemployment benefits if they lose their ob. However, things were different in the late nineteenth century, when the jobs were scarce and the unemployed were not supported by the federal government. A rapid industrial growth in the US during the 1800s attracted various groups of immigrants from Ireland, China, Germany, Italy, and Slavic countries seeking job opportunities and hoping to escape religious and other prosecutions in their home countries. However, they were discriminated against by their employers who were unwilling to pay unskilled and non-English speaking workers a fair wage; these men and women were also at times unwelcomed by the American citizens who feared to lose their already low-paid jobs. The wage system helped the industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie to raise their profits by cutting their factory workers’ wages due to a lack of skills, gender, age, or ethnicity. For instance, a skilled white male worker could make more than $800 a year compared to the $350 an unskilled worker had to support his family with (Rosenzweig, p.37). The majority of the working class families could not survive on those miserable wages and were forced to send their women and children to work. Organizations, such as the Knights of Labor fought for the restoration of wage cuts. Terence Powderly, the activist and the leader of the Knights of Labor believed that the wage system should be abolished (Rosenzweig, p.94). The Knights of Labor not only fought against an unequal pay, but also included African Americans as their members. African Americans were harshly discriminated when it came to receiving jobs, but they also fought for their rights by organizing strikes and boycotts. In 1887, 10,000 black workers of sugar plantation organized a strike for higher wages (Rosenzweig, p.123). The inequalities in social status, race, and ethnicity strongly affected the inequalities in pay labor workers received even though everyone worked equally hard and dangerous jobs risking their lives every day just to have enough money on bread and minimum clothing. The Knights of Labor were one of the biggest and most important unions during the 1870s and 1880s to negotiate American workers’...
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